The True Danger of Results-at-any-cost Management

Several years ago, we worked with a major cereal manufacturer whose leadership was concerned that many of the company’s managers weren’t succeeding. The managers in question had been with the company for some time and had risen through the ranks, and while the company was doing well overall, the leadership suspected that their managers had the potential to have a more positive impact on the company’s success.
Our team started with both an annual performance evaluation, which had already been in place for years, and a 360-degree feedback assessment. The performance evaluation measured operational outcomes—how much cereal was manufactured, quality, safety, etc. Additionally, it provided input from that person’s boss on how well he or she was meeting specified objectives. Similar to most companies, it measured key operational metrics and outcomes—what got done.
The 360-degree assessment, on the other hand, asked supervisors, peers, and subordinates about behaviors. Did the manager communicate well, build the team, recognize, and reward? Was he or she perceived as ethical, trustworthy, inspiring, skilled, and knowledgeable? While the annual performance appraisal measured what got done, the 360 measured how it got done. We wanted to understand the entire picture of each manager’s operational performance, as well as how he or she was leading the team.

We got more than we bargained for.

We soon recognized that this study would take some time—three years, to be exact. Over this period, we followed 147 managers as they moved within the ranks of the company. We had access to the managers’ annual employee performance evaluations and their 360-degree feedback, so this was a good start.
In assessing the effectiveness of a manager, it’s generally assumed that those who score well on traditional annual evaluations will also score well on the 360-degree feedback assessment. That’s logical, right? If the how is in line, then the what will also be in line, and vice versa. Makes sense.
To our surprise, it didn’t work out that way. After following these managers for three years, we statistically compared the results of each one’s annual performance evaluations with the same manager’s 360-degree feedback assessments over the same time period. The findings? There was no correlation whatsoever. None. Zip.
performance-review-scores-vs-360-degree-feedback-scores
This result contradicted much of what we were taught in business school. Weren’t we told that good leaders are well rounded in their approach, considering more than simply the end result?
As we looked at the managers who were scoring well on their annual employee evaluation while flopping in their 360-degree assessments, we found that they were getting results at the expense of customer and employee relationships. It was no surprise that turnover among the employees on their teams was nearly five times the average turnover in the company as a whole. In short, these managers were hitting objectives but leaving a trail of bodies as they did so.
This shortsighted approach didn’t work for long. The average tenure of the results-at-any-cost manager in this particular plant was just under eighteen months, compared to an average tenure of over seven years for other managers. During this period, not only did the managers’ results steadily decrease, their relationships with customers and subordinates deteriorated. Of the 147 managers included at the beginning of the study, forty-two were no longer with the company by the third year, with most of them leaving due to performance or customer issues.
What did those forty-two managers who left the company have in common? You guessed it: They were part of the results-at-any-cost cohort. But even worse than their level of attrition was the way they decimated entire teams on their way out the door, as well as destroyed key client relationships.
Is this the kind of manager that you want working with your most valuable assets?
The above is taken from the upcoming book release, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement, by Tracy Maylett and Paul Warner. ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® can be found on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and with other booksellers after October 21, 2014.
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